A Review of K-pop Culture

By: Grace Zhang

The Western world was recently introduced to the eccentric, colorful world of the K-pop, thanks to BTS’s hit song “DNA” in the winter of 2017. But they’re just one small part of growing the 4.7 billion dollar Korean music industry. For those of you who don’t know what K-pop is, just imagine idol bands with high-production music videos, bizarre fashion, and pop music on steroids. But behind the glamour of it all, lies the darker side of the industry. Unlike American musical acts, K-pop groups are often assembled by large entertainment companies that seek to market their acts as cultural commodities. Often they have a set ‘concept’ and everything about the group revolves around maintaining this image. This includes controlling their music, fashion, and even how they conduct themselves in their public and private lives. A few months ago, soloist HyunA and E’Dawn of PENTAGON announced that they had been dating. At first, nothing happened. Their management company, Cube Entertainment made no official announcements and their seemed to be no negative response to their decision. Many fans, including myself, thought this was a sign that the K-pop industry was starting to take step in the right direction. Then the headlines started appearing. It was official, HyunA and E’dawn were being fired by Cube for dating. Normally companies are not this forward when responding to scandals, but celebrities have been forced out in creative and subtle ways before. Sulli of f(x) was put on hiatus and then forced out of the group for dating in 2014. Taeyeon of Girls’ Generation was harassed by her boyfriend’s fans when they went public. But are fans just upset because their favorite celebrity is dating someone? Celebrities make a huge effort to be as in touch with their fans as possible. Groups have their own reality shows, frequently livestream themselves and post on social media to allow their fans to have a more personal connection with them. Usually these efforts are very successful and their fan bases are super devoted and supportive. Consequently, the idea that celebrities are reserved for their fans is also very common. In fact, members of a musical groups in Korea are idolized because to K-pop fans, their celebrities are more than just people in the public sphere. They have to be the living embodiment of perfection. Idols are harassed for things like swearing, not being skinny enough, saying something controversial, etc. They can never slip up. So, in addition to grueling work schedules and multiple new releases a year in order to stay relevant, they have make sure to never make any mistakes. So when they decide to dedicate themselves to someone other than their fans, should they really get so much hate? Because even if we don’t want to acknowledge it, at the end of the day, they’re normal, imperfect people just like us.